Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Russell Snyder, MD

 Russell Snyder, MD

Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Snyder earned a B.A. at Swarthmore and his M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. Internship at Bryn Mawr Hospital was followed by general practice residency, then pediatrics training at the University of Colorado, during which his interest in neurological diseases of children was aroused, particularly by the late Dr. Fred Horner (who played a similarly important role to generations of students and trainees as first Director of Child Neurology at the University of Rochester), as well as Stuart Schneck, Joe French, and Jim Stevens. After serving a two-year obligation in Germany as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps, Dr. Snyder returned to the University of Colorado where he trained as a child neurologist. Particularly important mentors in areas that would comprise significant parts of Dr. Snyder’s distinguished career were Stuart Schneck (neuromuscular diseases and movement disorders) and Gerhard Nellhaus (development and neurodegenerative syndromes), Joe Butterfield (neonatal neurology), Richie Brenner and Ralph Drucktion (epilepsy and EEG), Donnah O’Brien (neurometabolic diseases), and Bill Frankenberg (behavioral and learning disorders).

In 1967 Dr. Snyder was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico, where he has remained throughout his career, rising to the rank of Professor in 1977. He served as Director of the Section of Child Neurology from 1982-1997, Director of the Neuromuscular Clinic 1975-1985, and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Neurology in 2001. Dr. Snyder has achieved particular distinction in clinical research. He has published seventy-seven original papers in refereed journals, first author of thirty eight. His range of interests has been broad. Subjects (number of articles parenthetically indicated) include neurotoxins (10), neurometabolic/ neurogenetic diseases (17), infectious diseases (8), language and learning (7), autonomic disturbances (3), epilepsy (4), movement disorders (3), neuromuscular (9), neuroimaging (5), information technology (2), and ethics (16). Of particular importance among his neuromuscular publications have been his numerous papers on Navajo neurohepatopathy, upon which subject he is a leading expert.

Other highly cited original peer-reviewed contributions include those he has made to childhood mercury poisoning, cerebral infarction as a complication of bacterial meningitis, and visual function of the neonate. He participated in several highly cited papers on peroxisomal diseases. He is the coauthor of sixteen papers that deal with ethical and practice issues including research standards, informed consent, quality of life decisions for neonates, pain management, expert witness testimony, advertising, and humanistic aspects of professionalism. His clear thinking, his practical and incisive analysis has proved important in such efforts. Dr. Snyder has written twenty-two excellent chapters – four on neurotoxins, thirteen on inflammatory or infectious neurological illnesses, one on hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, two on learning disorders, and two on ethical issues. Seventeen published letters cover a wide range of topics, including (in addition to those concerning topics already mentioned) reflections on prognostication in medicine, reading disability controversies (including “the right not to read”), jogging injuries, and “Woodpecker drilling behavior.”

Dr. Snyder’s abilities as a teacher are recognized by generations of students and house officers at New Mexico. Equally, generations of new Board Examiners have quickly identified Dr. Snyder – who has served as a Board Examiner for 36 years – as both model and supportive mentor in this demanding task. His lessons to such individuals are imparted chiefly by example, reinforced with his unfailing fairness, insight, common sense, and dry sense of humor. Dr. Snyder served as an Ad Hoc ABPN Director on three occasions.

Dr. Snyder has taken a constructive role in helping to define the ethical standards of neurological practice and in political advocacy pertinent to healthcare. Here too his clear thinking and common sense have figured importantly.

As a charter member of the CNS, Dr. Snyder was a member of the first Program and the first Nominating Committee. Soon thereafter he was appointed to the Membership and By-Laws Committees, serving as Chair of the latter. He served on the Executive Committee as Counselor from the West, and has chaired both the Training and Ethics Committees. He has served on the Practice Committee for the past eleven years. His service to the Professors of Child Neurology includes chairmanship of the Membership, Nominating, and Postgraduate Education Committees, membership on the International Exchange and Child Neurology Training and Accreditation Committees, and key leadership positions including Counselor (1980-1982), President-Elect (1994-1996) and President (1996-98). He served on the Leadership Council of Neurological Sciences.

Dr. Snyder has been very active in the AAN. The committees on which he has served have included Essay Contest, Continuing Education, Practice, Audio-Visual Recording, the Ad Hoc Task Force to Promote the Practice Committee, and Information Systems in Neurology (serving as Chair of the Implementation Working Group Subcommittee on Computers and Information Systems in Neurology). He served for five years on the Joint Committee on Recertification Education in Neurology, five years as the Pediatric Neurology Course Chair. He was a member of the Genetics Testing Task Force, of the Legal Affairs Subcommittee, and he served for a decade on the of Ethics, Law, and Humanities Subcommittee. For the past ten years he has served on the Supervisory Panel of the Neurology Resident Elective in Clinical Ethics.

Dr. Snyder has served on the Editorial Boards as Ad Hoc Reviewer for the Journal of Child Neurology, Pediatric Neurology, Neurology, and Current Pediatric Reviews, He was the Section Editor for Child and Adolescent Neurology for Neurological Therapeutics: Principles and Practice (2003) demonstrating his characteristic patience and wisdom admixed with ever-constructive leadership. These qualities and his ever-readiness to do the right thing have led to his recruitment to serve with distinction on more than thirty committees or boards of the University of New Mexico, chairing several. For the Western Society for Pediatric Research he has served on the Neurobiology Steering Committee, the Brains and Brawn Club, and as Co-Chairperson of the Neurosciences Section. His educational activities have included service as Education Leader of the Sino-American and of the European Study Tours.

Dr. Snyder is well known to his students, house staff, and colleagues for wise utterances based on long experience that they term “Snyderisms.” These impart useful lessons that speak of long experience and careful observation and bespeak the attitude of a person who avoids taking himself and many of our rituals too seriously. Examples include:

  • “If 20 lab tests are done, by statistical chance alone one will be abnormal.”
  • “Not much can be expected of medical school since you have to lie to get in.”
  • “Rounds should be social and not political.”
  • “Success in medicine depends more upon behavior than knowledge.”
  • “Epilepsy is a state of constant dread, shared by family and friends, and interrupted occasionally by involuntary movements.”
  • “Common problems make the best grand rounds.”

Dr. Snyder’s approach to the care of and for a patient is, as another old saying says, first to care about that patient. He goes about these tasks with kindness, intelligence, and organization. He has served as a role model in this fashion for countless students, but also numerous colleagues in a wide variety of settings. His interests outside of medicine have included running, reading, cars, and travel.